Meteor enthusiasts may be able to catch glimpses of the daytime Arietid meteor shower this week – the strongest daytime shower of the year.
The Arietids occur in early June each year, sending thousands of meteors darting across the sky. The problem, however, is that the sun usually rises when the shower is most intense. That’s because the shower’s radiant point — the place in the sky where the meteors appear to be coming from — is just 30 degrees from the Sun.
This means that the shower is largely invisible. However, you should be able to catch some shooting stars caused by the Arietid Shower by getting up before sunrise when the sun isn’t in the sky. This is because the shower’s radiant point rises about an hour before the Sun rises in the east.
According to astronomy website SpaceWeather.com, these predawn Arietids are often “Earthgrazer”-type meteors, which are slow-moving and bright. That said, it might be difficult to see which ones.
Meteor shower rates are not expected to be very high during the pre-dawn observing hour. The American Meteor Society states that current rates are expected to be around one meteor per hour at the mean entry velocity – although this can be as high as six per hour as seen from rural locations in the mid-Northern Hemisphere.
In tropical southern latitudes, the morning rate from rural locations can be closer to 10 meteors per hour.
The upside is that if a particular morning doesn’t offer much of a display, the shower should be active during the first and second weeks of June. There is conflicting information about the exact date of the peak.
Astronomy website EarthSky states that the peak will be reached on June 7th, while the American Meteor Society states that the peak happened on June 4th.
In any case, before dawn observers can try to look east and look for meteors moving away from the radiant.
Meteor showers occur when Earth flies through a cloud of debris left by a comet. Bits of this debris can enter Earth’s atmosphere extremely quickly, causing it to heat up and glow as it streaks across the sky. Because scientists can calculate the orbits of comets, they can predict when meteor showers will occur. Many take place around the same time each year.
Which comet is responsible for the Arietid meteor shower is still uncertain. However, it is believed that the shower could be caused by Comet 96P/Machholz, which was discovered in 1986. Others believe it may have come from an asteroid called 1566 Icarus.